She could not quite match Laura Kenny’s gold medal-winning performance in London 12 months ago, but Elinor Barker won her erstwhile team-mate’s strong approval by taking silver in the scratch race on a mixed opening day for Great Britain’s young squad at the Track Cycling World Championships in Hong Kong.
“Fair frigging play @elinorbarker you absolute legend!!” Kenny tweeted after watching the race on television from back in the UK. “I know she will be gutted being so close but nailed the tactics!!!”
Kenny, who last summer became Great Britain’s most successful female Olympian of all time when she claimed her third and fourth gold medals in Rio de Janeiro at the tender age of 24, is skipping these championships after deciding to take some time out from cycling to become a mother. But the absence of Team GB’s golden girl has opened the door to riders such as Barker, a mainstay of Britain’s all-conquering team pursuit squad, to show what she can do in an individual context.
And Kenny was left hugely impressed by the Welsh rider’s performance in the 40-lap scratch race.
Thank you for everybody's kind messages :) 3 more shots at a podium for me this week starting with TP tomorrow ��— Elinor Barker (@elinorbarker) April 12, 2017
Barker, a former world junior time trial champion and Olympic team pursuit gold medallist, made it into a six-woman break that lapped the field, before launching her sprint with just under two laps remaining.
“I wanted to go with about a lap and a half at the most and ended up going with just under two, so it wasn't too far out from my plan,” she said afterwards. “[It was a] little bit too far maybe, but I felt like I didn't really have a choice. I was really, really trying to convince [Dutch rider Kirsten] Wild that she needed to go; getting out of the saddle and trying to push her on to lead me out. [But] she wasn't having any of it.
“I think I saw the riders coming over me and I thought ‘I'm pushing it here, I might as well push it on the black line, get a shorter route and not get squeezed down’. It almost worked. Not quite.”
Barker was pipped on the line by the Italian Rachele Barbieri, admitting she was surprised by the identity of the rider who came around her.
“She wasn't working in the break and it looked very much like she was knackered,” she said. “She's got a very good ‘acting’ pain face. I haven't really raced her very often, so [it’s about] getting to know her as a rider, I suppose. All credit to her, she's very, very good. But I'm a bit disappointed. I am happy with a silver medal and quite proud of it, but I'm not going to get to wear the world stripes next time I race the scratch race, which is what I wanted.”
Barker will have at least two more bites at the cherry this week in the Madison and the points race, the one she targeted pre-championships.
And she could potentially win a bronze medal on Thursday if she rides in the women’s team pursuit.
She did have one consolation. The rider she beat into third, Jolien D'Hoore of Belgium, remarked afterwards that she thought Barker looked exactly like Kenny on the bike.
“I guess I'm a small British rider with a full face helmet on,” Barker smiled. “I probably do look like Laura on the bike.” Did she not mean in terms of the way she rode? “[That would be a] massive compliment in that case! I think she just meant visually. But either way. It's a compliment. I'll take that.”
There was disappointment for Britain’s men’s sprint team on the opening day. The trio of Jack Carlin, Ryan Owens and Joe Truman, boasting an average age of 20, exited in the second round.
But both the men’s and women’s pursuit teams – traditionally Britain’s 'bankers' but this year stocked with young thrusters – will have the chance to win bronze on Thursday. And there will be further chances of medals from Chris Latham in the men’s scratch and Lewis Oliva in the keirin, with no less an authority than Sir Chris Hoy tipping the Welshman to finish on the podium.